Lilo and Stitch

The failure of most recent Disney animated films to reach the meteoric heights of predecessors like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, or The Lion King now prompt each new animated Disney film to bill itself as a departure away from the typical formula. Truth be told, movies like The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis, and the new Lilo and Stitch are all departures, and all good films for what they are going for. However, in terms of genuine entertainment and all age accessibility, Lilo and Stitch remains firmly in the Disney canon while branching off and doing something a little different. There is no cuddly talking animal sidekick, but there is an obnoxious alien. The heroine not only has a dead mother, but a dead father too. The movie never breaks into song, but it does make good use of six Elvis tunes.

This movie does look different from many animated films today, because it was hand drawn. Directors and co-writers Chris Sanders (Mulan) and Dean Deblois eschewed computer animation for a more natural look. The characters in Lilo and Stitch are a little rounder, almost resembling something out of Looney Tunes. Having a less realistic look never hurts a movie. Here, it actually helps with the fanciful story. Stitch (voiced by Sanders) has no real name, but is known as Experiment 626. Jumba, an alien scientist (David Ogden Stiers, The Majestic, Curse of the Jade Scorpion) created him to wreak havoc. He will destroy everything in sight. Experiment 626 escapes after aliens to Earth, and finds his way to a pound where Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase, A.I., Donnier Darko). The two have one thing in common; they are both outsiders and troublemakers.

Lilo has no friends at school, and can be something of a brat. Her imagination is too active for any of the other girls to understand (plus, she loves Elvis). She is also hurt at the death of her parents, and is now living with her older sister Nani (voiced by Tia Carrere, Shi, Meet Prince Charming). The two do not get along exceedingly well, but do follow ohana, or the Hawaiian word for 'family.' To them, ohana means that nobody is left behind or forgotten. Lilo doesn't realize this, but social worker Cobra Bubbles (voiced by Ving Rhames, Baby Boy, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) is ready to take her away from Nani. Nani only has a couple days to prove that she is able to raise Lilo in a safe and nurturing environment. Stitch's presence makes things worse, since he begins to destroy everything in sight. To make matters worse, the aliens send Jumba and Pleakey (Kevin McDonald, The Ladies Man, Galaxy Quest) to apprehend Stitch.

As they interact, Lilo and Stitch begin to learn from each other. They find in themselves the companionship that each is seeking. Left with nothing to destroy, Stitch must learn to move on. For Lilo, this is her first real friend. The two become closer, and everybody's lives improve. It's really a simple story, and many movies have used similar plots, but telling it with such genuine emotion is hard. Telling it in such a way that both adults and children can enjoy it, like here, is even more difficult. The Hawaii setting is a nice change of pace, and Carrere and Jason Scott Lee (Soldier, Tale of the Mummy) put forth a convincing pidgin accent (they were born in Hawaii, yah?). Lilo and Stitch are brats, but not so much as to alienate the people watching. Lilo and Stitch proves that for animated films, it is all begins with the story. A charming story can easily trump fancy graphics any day.

Haro Rates It: Really Good.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG for mild sci-fi action.

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